Thursday, July 28, 2011

Growing Up in a Boarding School - Amen!

I've probably never been as exposed to religion in my entire life as I was during my first four years of boarding school at Pratt. We knelt by our beds every night to say a prayer as well as before every meal. Our school had a Church that we visited every Sunday morning and I learned to sing hymns from the Bible and make a cross in the air with my hand. I was too young to grasp the concept of religion then, but I do remember looking forward to going to Church. It was a chance to escape the four walls of the hostel and come in contact with the "outside world". I also loved the architecture, the stained glass and how the Church smelled. After Church I went to special Bible class by choice because I was intrigued by all the stories. I knew all about Christianity before I knew anything about Hinduism.

So naturally Christmas was big at my school. Before we closed for the Holidays, the boarders put up an annual show and party. Imagine my excitement when I was told I would be the "Guiding Star" and would be in costume and makeup. The play was going to depict Jesus being born and only a handful of junior dorm students were selected to be in character and I was one of them. I was elated. However, Jesus must have noticed my yawns at Church and I fell sick right before the play. High temperature had me lying in bed at our "Sick Room" for days and I missed rehearsals. One evening Tota came to visit me and let me know that she was given my role. That night I cried - I was so sad. I did end up being in the play but as a last minute addition where I had to enter with a bunch of girls and skip and hop and leave. I was not in costume and had to wear one of my own outfits.

It still intrigues me how I did not end up being all that religious after all of that. Maybe because I eventually realized that people think being religious makes up for all the wrong they do. However, I am thankful for the life I've had, the experiences that have taught me so much, loved ones and now my daughter. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - amen!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Growing Up in a Boarding School - The Dining Experience!

I cannot remember if getting into the groove of things at Pratt was easy or
difficult. My memory of those first few years is somewhat fuzzy. I stayed
there for about four years moving on to another boarding school, but more on
the move in future installments.

Apart from sleeping in an uncomfortable bed with a room full of total
strangers and using those common toilets and bath area I think the biggest
adjustment was the food. If you know anything about Bengali's you would know
we are all about our food. Our daily meals are pretty elaborate and
delicious and parents jump through hoops feeding their kids to make them
round and chubby. Before stepping into hostel life I did not quite appreciate
that of course. I used to be one of those kids not too keen on eating and
would take hours finishing one meal. It didn't take me long to realize the good life I'd left behind soon after I sat down for my first meal at the hostel.

The aluminum plates and a trolly with two large buckets filled with rice and daal respectively and some kind of vegetable concoction already served on those plates still manages to churn my stomach whenever I think of those days. Breakfast consisted of a runny porridge also served on plates which later somehow became my most favorite food at Pratt. Non-veg which consisted more of curry and less of meat was only served on weekends. One positive came out of this culinary experience - on my fist vacation back home I absolutely devoured anything that was served to me. From there on eating was never a problem and I could eat almost anything given to me without being picky. I truly began to appreciate food. Till date I hate wasting food - it reminds me of those days where I didn't have much to eat.

Talking about food - we did have a tuck locker back in our dorm area. This was the place which held the most precious of our possessions - little snack items that were sent from home. These were all kept locked and was given to us on weekends. I remember relishing each cream biscuit one lick at a time. There was also a guy who used to come to the hostel on weekends to sell cookies from his black trunk. He had these bright pink and white cookies that he sold for a few paisas. I would almost always spend my tuck money on those.

These days I'm served huge portions wherever I go to eat and I see the amount of food being wasted around me. It makes me sad and I remember those days as little girls when we would have given anything to eat the way we do now.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Growing Up in a Boarding School - The Beginning

My interview at Pratt Memorial School consisted of a spelling test. I had to
spell three words given to me by the principal. I had spelled one of them
wrong and was sad that I would not get admitted. The word was 'face' and I
had spelled it with an 's' even though I had known the spelling. Probably
because I was nervous. I was five.

I however did get admitted to that boarding school and was soon accompanied by pishimoni (aunt), ma (mom) and a black trunk filled with my belongings on my
first day there. I will come back to the trunk soon but right
away I need to tell you that I still remember the feeling I had in my
stomach that day as I was being dropped off. I did not shed a tear maybe
because I was too confused with the knots I was feeling deep inside me. It
was probably the calm before the storm - because later in my life there were
plenty of tears to make up for that one brave night and probably the most important moment in my life.

Coming back to the black trunk. It was an object of awe the very first time it came to the house. I don't know why exactly but maybe because it came with the significance of leaving home and entering into a brand new territory. I still remember my name and address being inscribed on it with white ink. It was like the most artistic and incredible thing I'd ever seen. Later that trunk became an integral part of my happy and sad moments both. It made me happy when it was brought out of the hostel storage - that meant I was going home on vacation and made me sad when I had to pack it at home at the end of a month long vacation.

But I digress. This post is about my first day at boarding school and even though we didn't have cameras back then to record first days of everything in our child's life - I still have a crystal clear picture of that night. The boarding section of the school was situated on the third floor of the very old building. It was built during the Britsh Raj and had grand staircases and huge windows (more like doors) with green shutters. After you climbed up the stairs to the third floor you entered into a long corridor that led to the Matrons room on the other end of it. The three dorms (junior, intermediate and senior)ran parallel to the corridor on its right. Our lockers and shoe racks ran along the two walls of the corridor and that is where we all conglomerated every night to polish our shoes in preparation for the next day.

And I've digressed again. It was late evening when we arrived at the hostel. It was already dark outside and all the dorms were empty. My place would of course be in the junior dorm and while my aunt spoke with the matron and handed her my belongings I was asked to walk into the dorm to take a look. As I did, I noticed a solitary girl standing at the other end of the dorm looking out from the window. I went up to her and asked her her name. She had the same last name as mine and I took that as a sign and we became best of friends for the next few years. She told me that it was a special night and so all the other girls were in a common room watching TV. She stayed back because she was missing her mom who I found out some time later was no longer alive.

It was because of her my first day there didn't seem as bad. That night when I lay in my bed amongst almost a hundred other girls of different ages and backgrounds, I realized my life had just begun and little did I know those were the years that would make me who I am today.

Tota Bhowmik - wherever you are, this post is for you!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Following dreams

Thanks to my daughter I've watched the movie Tangled close to a hundred times (not an exaggeration)and surprisingly each time I've LOVED it and wished I was the lost princess who is finally able follow her dreams. One thing I've realized while growing up is that I have always lived a life that was deemed right and proper by someone else. Even the dreams were more or less set for me. I'm not saying I've had a bad life - but it was mostly not of my own choice. I think a lot of my friends from India have been in similar situations and felt the same way, yet we always end up doing what we think everyone else will think is right. Now that I am a mother such expectations are much greater. Every step I take I have to be convinced I am doing the right thing for her.

Deep down inside I know whatever I do, I will always have her best interest in mind and will not love her any less. I hope she grows up living her dreams and knows it is okay for everyone else around her to do so. As we sit and watch Tangled for the 101st time and she tries to braid my hair, I foresee a strong, beautiful and independent girl following her dreams just like the lost princess Rapunzel (even though her hair takes forEVER to grow):)

Happy 4th readers and here's hoping you are all following your dreams or are at least trying to do so.